Russia treats drug addicts with lasers or quarantine

06/29/2009 3:00 AM

10/22/2014 12:15 PM

CHELYABINSK, Russia — Russia's conflicted stance about its growing drug crisis — criticism of the West, but silence at home — seems unlikely to address the problem, and it may even have prompted a misguided and dangerous search for remedies.

In Chelyabinsk, the State Institute of Laser Surgery took matters into its own hands.

Inside the faded Soviet-era building, director Arnold Kosel and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments on drug addicts beginning in 2000. First, they attached electrodes to the fronts and backs of the patients' heads, and for 24 hours they administered low levels of electric current, hoping to zap the part of the brain's subcortex that's responsible for addictive behavior. That experiment lasted two years and included 300 subjects.

Then Kosel began working with lasers, first on rats and dogs, and then on human beings. From 2001 to 2004, the doctor and his team drilled 5-millimeter holes in the skulls of patients and burned parts of their brains with a laser. In all, 104 people were treated that way.

"Unfortunately, when we wanted to begin our experiments again we couldn't get a license," Kosel said, sitting in his office, where one poster read: "The radical cure is based on the interruption of functional links."

"The police came here and forbade us from continuing our experiments," he said.

Kosel said that many of the addicts were "cured," but it wasn't clear what that meant.

In nearby Yekaterinburg, the staff of one treatment facility locks heroin addicts into a cell labeled "quarantine."

Sergei Adeyev, who runs a drug and HIV-prevention office in Chelyabinsk, summed up the view of many of his fellow Russians about drug users: "It's often said that all of them should be gathered in one place and surrounded with barbed wire."

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